Getting your story down on paper can be daunting… How do you even begin?! Combine that with the way we’re living at the moment, with the social restrictions placed on us due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it might feel like an impossible task.
We asked Sabah Choudrey – trans activist, speaker, writer and one of the four judges of our new Writing Prize – what helps them to focus when they’re writing. Read on for some truly helpful and honest advice.
Hello Sabah! First question: How do you overcome writer’s block?
Isn’t this always the question. I’ve read the articles, flicked through books and heard the conversations on getting through writer’s block and I still don’t think I could give a straight answer.
I found Around The Writer’s Block by Rosanne Bane at a writer’s group and it really helped me to break down writing from one huge scary task: WRITE YOUR BOOK to a more pleasant activity of building habits and smaller writing tasks.
One of the most helpful things Rosanne taught me was that writing as the process is more than just putting words on a page. Writing is thinking about writing, planning what we’re writing, list-making, first/second/third drafting, proof-reading, researching – it’s all writing.
All the things we discount because we might still have a blank page at the end of the day, is still a part of our writing process.
Another thing Rosanne taught me was how important it is to play when it comes to writing. For a while, I would start my day (whatever time that was) with writing in my journal or free-writing. This is important. Making time for myself to write with no goal, or objective, it’s unproductive, reminds me that writing isn’t always about the outcome. And then I would get on with my writing projects, setting myself a timer and putting away all distractions/evidence of multi-tasking, closing browser tabs I’m not using and putting my phone on silent somewhere I can’t even see it (I like the Pomodoro Technique, 25 minute ‘work’ time with 5 minute breaks).
Of course I still struggle, I fall out of practice, because it still feels big especially when you have deadlines, especially when you’re also dealing with changes in your day-to-day life and especially under the coronavirus pandemic. I try to show up when I can. And when I can’t I interrupt that critical voice that tells me how many hours I’ve wasted, how many times I’ve been distracted, and put my writing stuff away, draw a line under the day and say, yeah I’m not going to do this right now. I’ll try again later, or try again tomorrow. I try and be kind to myself, because there is usually a reason why I’m struggling and resisting that I need to attend to first.
Could you describe your own writing process? What motivates you?
Honestly it’s been pretty difficult since practising physical distancing as social solidarity during the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve had waves of depression, anxiety, grief, hopelessness and powerlessness so that writing has not felt like a priority. My writing habits along with many others have been forcibly readjusted.
My recent writing process was going to a coffee shop and spending a couple of hours there, having a little date with myself. But as circumstances have changed, I’m sure I’m not the only one having to come up with a brand new covid-19 themed writing process. Which in itself, is a process…
Today I made a nice coffee at home, tried sitting somewhere different (not in the same place I go to where I relax), I even put on some background coffee shop noises – I’m doing what I can to feel like I’m in a different space, my writing space, because we’re all indoors, staying safe.
To cope with the overwhelming feelings, I’m writing really small bits at a time. I’ve found it easier to focus on a couple of little writing projects I’ve set myself (like this one) to ease into writing something bigger. This way, I remind myself that the problem isn’t that I simply can’t write – I can – I need to accept that things are particularly hard right now, so be as patient as you can.
What kinds of experiences would you love to read about in the submissions?
The theme of JKP’s writing prize ‘Trans Everyday’ is exactly what I want to see. As trans people we are set apart for many reasons, which sometimes comes with the expectations that we are exceptional (we definitely are!) but we are also ordinary, average, below-average, and generally a bit clumsy. I want to read trans narratives that are ours, from those whose stories are not often heard, of black trans people, trans femmes of colour, disabled trans people, trans people of faith, older trans people, young trans people, and those who are not ‘out/proud’ but are still exceptional trans people. I want to hear from you.
Could you share any words of advice for writers at the start of their writing journey?
You are a writer. Whether you have a pen, fingertip, microphone or dream. You are a writer.
Go back to the basics of simply writing. Practice writing for fun, for boredom, for no one, for ‘failure.’ Go back to what writing/typing/telling your story means to you. Remember that.
Pay attention to the writer’s block. Listen to your resistance. Accept whatever it might be telling you. Then try again to move past it.
Abandon phrases like “I need to be productive” and “I did nothing today” and challenge yourself on what productive/nothing looks like and who told you that. (Maybe even write about it…)
Try something different in your writing process or habit for 7 days. Then evaluate it. Try it again or try something new for 7 more days. Evaluate again, and repeat.
Be kind to yourself, build love and care into your writing habits.
Lastly, repeat this one after me: I am a writer. Whether I have a pen, fingertip, microphone or a dream. I am a writer.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Sabah!
Feeling inspired? You can enter our Writing Prize here: